The time after a baby is born is often the most challenging in a person’s life. People expect it to be miraculous and exciting but often parents have difficulty bonding with the baby, feel overwhelmed by challenges such as breastfeeding and lack of sleep, or feel stressed in their relationships with their partners and other family members. Both moms and dads may have feelings of grief related to loss of freedom. Some women feel guilty and if they don’t express these feelings, it can worsen their situation.
Postpartum depression can range from the ‘baby blues’ to postpartum depression to the more serious postpartum psychosis. Postpartum depression is common, with most women experiencing some form of baby blues following delivery up to two weeks. Approximately 10-15% of women will experience something more severe. Sometimes, the feelings last much longer – even months after the baby is born.
Women who are at risk include those with the following issues:
- History of prior depression or postpartum depression
- History of moderate to severe PMS
- Family history of depression or postpartum depression
- Traumatic experience during labour and delivery
- Chronic sleep deprivation
- Lack of marital or partner support
- Poor nutritional status
- History of abuse (physical or emotional)
- Poor relationship with close family members, particularly a parent
- Recent or ongoing life stress
- Lack of emotional and social support after birth
- Hormonal imbalance in the thyroid gland, adrenal glands or with progesterone or estrogen
Depending on the severity of a woman’s condition, conventional medical treatment may be necessary and should be sought out immediately. However for milder forms of depression there are many naturopathic therapies that can help prevent (during pregnancy) and alleviate depressive symptoms after birth.
- During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the growing baby places a high demand on the mother’s nutrients. A number of studies have reported inadequate intakes of omega-3, folate, B vitamins, iron, and calcium in pregnant women. Depletion of nutrient reserves throughout pregnancy can increase a woman’s risk for maternal depression.
- The ‘Standard North American Diet’ emphasizes simple sugars, excess carbohydrates and low fiber consumption. This can lead to imbalances in blood sugar that cause or exacerbate depression and anxiety. It is important to eat a well-balanced diet with adequate nutrition, vitamins and protein.
- After pregnancy, your hormones will fluctuate. This continues until breastfeeding is stopped or until you get your first few menstrual periods again. A woman’s mood can change at any point during this time. Naturopathic medicine can be helpful to monitor hormones and maintain them at a steady level to minimize fluctuations.
- Changes in thyroid activity can impact post partum depression. There are several natural herbs that can help restore thyroid balance, with close supervision. In addition, several specific vitamins and minerals are needed for optimal thyroid metabolism. A thorough diet analysis and individualized supplementation program can be helpful.
- Imbalances in estrogen and progesterone are natural after birth. There are several herbs that can help to re-establish balance, allow regular cycles, enable breastmilk flow (if still breastfeeding) or minimize PMS symptoms.
- Serotonin and homocysteine levels can also become imbalanced in the postpartum time period. These pathways are important for mood balance from the first week postpartum and beyond, into the second month postpartum. Often these pathways can be balanced with education and nutritional advice from your naturopathic doctor.
3. Reduce stress
- Relax: Often muscles get tense with the lack of sleep, lifting heavy car seats and even poor posture during breastfeeding or other daily activities. Schedule a massage, acupuncture session or other manual therapy to help relax your muscles, mind and nervous system. Often muscles get tense with the lack of sleep, lifting heavy car seats and even poor posture during breastfeeding or other daily activities.
- Address your emotions: Having a child is life changing. If this transition is difficult, consider mindfulness activities such as meditation or seeking out an experienced counselor to talk with.
4. Take time for yourself
- Rest: Sleep can be a challenge after a baby is born – especially in the first few months. Some women experience postpartum insomnia. Asking for support from loved-ones or even hiring someone such as a postpartum doula, to care for your baby while you get much needed rest is essential. There are also supplements and herbs that can help to promote sleep as well as acupuncture points that can help reduce stress and enhance the relaxation process.
- Exercise: Activity is undoubtedly one of nature’s best anti-depressants as it helps to release powerful endorphins and naturally balances blood sugar. Begin a daily walking program of 30 minutes to 1 hour. Or consider a yoga class. There are many types of activities that you can do with or without your baby that can keep you active.
- Connect: socialize with a friend or moms network in town. Often it is helpful to discuss your feelings and concerns with others who can relate to what you’re going through.
Rishma Walji, ND, RAc, PhD
Naturopathic Doctor and Registered Acupuncture
Complete Wellness Clinic
450 Bronte Street S, Milton, Ontario
905 875 2288